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RACINE — While Gov. Tony Evers and state legislators debate a provision to decriminalize marijuana statewide, the City of Racine is advancing with the marijuana directive passed by its City Council in December.

The council’s directive orders the Police Department to defer to the city’s municipal ordinance for first-time violations. Instead of state charges, first-time offenders would be issued a municipal citation for marijuana possession involving amounts less than 25 grams.

A municipal ordinance has been in place since 1990, but officers were allowed discretion as to whether to issue a citation or request state charges for first-time offenses. A Journal Times investigation from 2017 found that officers were twice as likely to issue criminal charges in such cases.

On Jan. 17, City Attorney Scott Letteney issued an email to the City Council and Police Chief Art Howell formally notifying Howell of the directive, making it officially in effect.

Letteney wrote in an email to The Journal Times that the directive would only apply to the city Police Department, since the city does not have authority over other law-enforcement entities, such as the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, which also patrols city streets.

Howell issued a statement saying his department would comply.

“I cannot imagine a scenario where I (or any other chief) would direct officers to ignore an official ordinance adopted by Common Council,” wrote Howell. “It should however be noted that, the absence of broader state legislation (that provides direction to, and governs all sworn law enforcement officers statewide) will leave open the probability that our regional partners (Federal Bureau of Investigation and Racine County Sheriff’s Office personnel) will not be obligated to follow a city adopted Ordinance.”

At the Wednesday, Feb. 20, meeting of the City Council, an ordinance proposal is scheduled to be sent to the Public Safety and Licensing Committee for review. That ordinance formally sets the dollar amount on the citation to $75. In municipal court, the judge can set a range from $1 to $75 for the final forfeiture to be paid by the offender.

The Public Safety and Licensing Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Evers’ plan

Evers’ marijuana proposal also includes a provision that would legalize marijuana for medical use, such as for treating pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer. It would also establish a record-expungement procedure for individuals who have completed their sentence or probation for marijuana possession, and align Wisconsin’s laws on cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, with federal standards.

In the Nov. 6 advisory marijuana referendum, voters in Racine County and the City of Racine voted strongly in support of medical marijuana (73,272 in favor to 13,166 opposed in Racine County; in the city, 22,984 in favor to 3,234 against).

Support for recreational marijuana was not as strong, but still had a sizable margin (50,486 in favor to 34,433 against in Racine County; in the city, 17,456 in favor to 8,863 against in Racine). The city also asked voters about decriminalization in Wisconsin, which was supported, 18,665 in favor to 7,336 against.

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Reporter

Christina Lieffring covers the Burlington area and the Village of Caledonia. Before moving to Racine, she lived in Nebraska, Beijing, Chicago and grew up in Kansas City.

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